Amityville Horror: What Really Happened? A Mob Hit, A Demon Boy, And A Blockbuster
The Amityville Horror was the second-highest-grossing film in 1979, a terrifying tale based, we were told, on actual events. Part one of the story is a fact: a man named Ronald DeFeo did kill his parents and siblings in the house at 112 Ocean Avenue, in Amityville, New York. The second part of the story concerns the strange happenings that drove the Lutz family, the next owners of the home, to flee. These events, even for paranormal phenomena, are essentially fabricated -- a hoax.
The Mass Murder That Started It All
At about 3:15 AM on November 13, 1974, Ronald DeFeo Jr. killed six family members at his home on 112 Ocean Rd. in Amityville, New York. After his family members died, DeFeo went to a bar and announced that his family had been murdered. He claimed that they had been victims of a mob hit carried out by Louis Falini
DeFeo's initial story didn’t stick. The details he provided were inconsistent, changing as police uncovered new evidence. (Furthermore, Falini was later able to prove that he was out of the state at the time of the murders.) The next day, DeFeo confessed and mounted an insanity defense, claiming that he heard the voices of his family members plotting against him. The prosecution asserted that DeFeo had an antisocial personality disorder and despite his use of LSD and heroin, he was aware of his actions at the time. He was found guilty and sentenced to six consecutive sentences of 12 years to life for the murders of his parents and four siblings.
The Lutzes Move In To The Haunted House
A year after the murders, in December 1975, George and Kathy Lutz purchased the house for a bargain price and moved in with their three children and their dog. They also bought the furniture as part of the deal. They learned about the murders prior to buying the house, and one of George’s friends insisted they have the house blessed.
They lived there for 28 days, claiming that paranormal activity drove them out. According to the Lutzes, the house was plagued by swarms of flies even during the cold of winter, George discovered a secret red room that terrified their dog, they had visions of a demon, heard unexplained noises, smelled unexplained odors, and Kathy was attacked by an unseen force that gave her red welts on her chest and caused her to levitate. By January 1976, 28 days after they moved into the house, the Lutzes fled after a night that, according to them, was too terrifying to recount.
The Story Becomes A Book
An editor for Prentice Hall introduced Jay Anson to the Lutz's, who gave him 45 hours of recorded information to provide the basis for the book which would later be turned into the movie.
Many of the details of the Lutz’s claims have been discounted. They claimed that the locks, doors, and windows had been damaged, but the subsequent owners of the house stated that there was no evidence of damage. The Lutz's had claimed that they saw cloven hooves in the snow, but there was not any snow on the ground during the time. And the secret red room was simply a basement closet. No later occupants reported any evidence of a haunting in the house.
The Truth Is A Bit More Muddy
Apparently they passed a polygraph test and some continue to support their assertions, explaining that they seemed genuinely terrified. Some believe that they concocted the stories for financial gain from the media attention.
One of the more interesting pieces of evidence was an explanation that William Weber, DeFeo’s lawyer, concocted the story in the hopes of securing a new trial for his client. The Lutz’s son Daniel has recently alleged abuse at the hands of his step-father, George, who, he claimed, dabbled in Satanism.
DeFeo's Killing Spree, Re-Examined
The story of the murders also does not seem to be as certain as originally assumed, as new evidence has surfaced. That evidence, which includes handwritten notes, eyewitness reports, and a second gun recovered from the nearby canal, points to the notion that DeFeo may not have acted alone; a second shooter may have helped him carry out the crime.
Another suspicious detail of the police report suggests that we're missing something. The bodies of DeFeo's family were all found face down, in their beds. Ronald DeFeo didn't use a silencer. It's strange, even unlikely, that Ronald could walk through the house at 3:15 AM, killing relative after relative, without waking any of them up.
(To further complicate things, neighbors did not recall hearing gunfire.)
The Leftover Artifact
There's one more piece of the story that lacks an explanation: the so-called "ghost boy" or "demonic boy" photograph. The picture was taken by the well-known paranormal Ed and Lorraine Warren and shows a bland hallway and staircase with what seems to be a dark-faced, bright-eyed child peering out from a dark room. The photograph, taken shortly after the Lutzes left the house, is startling. It hasn't been debunked, although it's not clear how it would fit into the story, to begin with. But our modern-day suspicion of images -- thanks to the Photoshop fakery we see almost daily -- might be useful in this case. Even using the analog photo technology of the day, such a photo could be faked fairly easily.
The story of the haunting might be a hoax, but the murders of DeFeo's family were certainly real, and all too horrifying.